It never entered Meaghan Frank’s mind that her healthy baby could have a stroke. Blaine Frank was born July 24 to the delight of Frank, her husband, Zach, and 3-year-old daughter, Makenna.
A medical imaging technologist at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital, Frank, like many people, thought of stroke as primarily a disease of old age. But two days after Blaine’s birth at Missouri Baptist Medical Center, nurses observed that he was having a seizure and transferred him to St. Louis Children’s Hospital. An MRI showed he had suffered a small stroke in his brain’s left frontal lobe.
The risk of stroke in children is greatest in their first year, and peaks in the weeks before and immediately after birth, according to the American Stroke Association. Stroke occurs in about one of every 4,000 live births. The risk of stroke from birth though age 18 is nearly 11 per 100,000 children annually.
"Super baby" Blaine Frank is doing well.
The St. Louis Children’s Hospital website says the cause of newborn stroke isn’t always obvious. A common cause is a blood clot that travels to the brain. Another cause is hypoxia, an event that occurs when oxygen deprivation causes the brain cells to not make enough energy to survive. Miscellaneous disorders affecting the mother’s or infant’s health can also result in stroke. However, healthy children born after a healthy pregnancy can still experience a stroke.
Stroke in newborns often shows no clinical symptoms, and the problem often goes unrecognized and untreated until the baby is much older. The usual symptoms, such as speech problems, numbness on one side, or imbalance, are difficult or impossible to detect in a newborn. Of newborns who do show symptoms, seizure is the most recognizable sign. “Had Blaine not had a stroke in the hospital, we may not have known until he was much older,” Frank says.
The good news is that the newborn brain is resilient and more able to recover than an adult brain. Nerve cells in the newborn brain are still forming connections, and this makes it easier for the baby to transfer important functions to other parts of the brain. A newborn can have a significant stroke and still be neurodevelopmentally normal.
Meaghan Frank and her home and work families recently participated in a walk to raise awareness of pediatric stroke.
Blaine went home after three days at SLCH and is developing normally. He will continue to be followed by St. Louis Children’s Hospital neurologists and is participating in a Washington University School of Medicine research study, but all indications are good.
“The caregivers at St. Louis Children’s Hospital were fantastic,” Franks says. “My husband and I said that if nothing else came out of this, at least we got to meet the staff at Children’s.”
Frank is on a mission to raise awareness of pediatric stroke. She, her family and friends, including Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital co-workers, participated in a walk Oct. 21 and raised more than $700 for the World Pediatric Stroke Association.
“I had no idea newborns could have strokes, and most people I’ve talked to didn’t know either,” she says. “I really want to educate people.” For more information, visit the World Pediatric Stroke Association website.